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Technological diversity to address complex challenges: the contribution of American universities to sdgs

Ascione, Grazia Sveva (2023): Technological diversity to address complex challenges: the contribution of American universities to sdgs.

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Much of the literature emphasizes the relationship between interdisciplinarity and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are seen as closely linked and highly interdisciplinary. Therefore, innovation related to the SDGs is expected to be technologically diverse, especially when it emanates from academia, where teams of researchers collaborate to create innovation for the benefit of society. However, research on innovation for the SDGs is still in its infancy due to a lack of comprehensive quantitative analysis about its characteristics and a lack of consideration of potentially relevant actors, such as universities. This paper aims to make a threefold contribution to the existing literature by analyzing USPTO patent data from 2006 to 2020. First, we develop a novel method for tagging SDGs-related patents using an unsupervised natural language processing (NLP) approach. Starting from an initial list of keywords, we build an extended dictionary of keywords for each SDG based on the patent text by combining the TF-IDF method with a vector representation of the patent text and SDGs keywords. Second, we analyze innovation related to the SDGs, focusing particularly on the contribution of universities. Third, we compare the diversity of SDGs and non-SDGs patents using the Rao-Stirling index. Our results show that patents related to the SDGs are on the rise, but the trend is more pronounced for universities, where the majority of innovation production revolves around SDG 3 (good health and well-being). Moreover, the rise in SDGs patents seems to be led not only by green technologies, but mainly by high technologies. Eventually, the empirical results point in two directions. On the one hand, SDGs related patents are more diverse than their counterparts across almost all technology sectors. However, if we consider university patents only, there is a diversity premium only for a few SDGs, namely SDG 2, SDG 3, and SDG 15.

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